I agree with you on your thoughts on the 26 x 4 from public land vs the guided route...was just thinking that you might gain familiarity with the country through a guide that could take longer to get by yourself.
I like to hunt the big bucks myself but I haven't shot any that I have found. If I can beat them at their game to where they leave themselves open for a good shot, thats usually enough. I have learned much by just watching the big ones....some of them are really smart....I have more than once sat on a vantage point and watched big bucks out smart hunters after them...pretty interesting.
Uusally I hunt alone and often in some nasty spots so I will usually try to pick out what I think I can bring out by myself (plus I am getting old). The really big deer can be a hand full.
One other reason I usually just take the lesser bucks is I wonder about the gene pool. Some years ago, a family (I think it was the Whitheads) did some research on Elk herds and studied some herds up near the Idaho/Montana border. The herds had been open to bulls only hunting for years. What they (and hunters found) was that the antler size had degraded substantially such that there simply were no bulls being produced with the really large thick racks that had been common years before. As a result, the fish and game cut out the bull hunting for along time, to try to allow the heards to recover.
I think about that when I am hunting and I find the really big ones....I actually don't know if this would apply to deer in any way, or not but I do have a lot of respect for those really sneaky big bucks and I wonder if, or at least think that possibly, they are needed to pass on their instincts and skills that let them survive and get that big in the first place.
Probably one of these days I will shoot one of those big ones just because and I certainly don't mind if you do.
Good luck on your hunt....American Fork is a good jump off spot.